Updated: Oct 31, 2022
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The Sanskrit word used commonly in philosophical investigations of sense perception is pratyaksa, which is a compound of Prati, ‘before’, and aksa, ‘eye’ or any ‘organ of sense’; thus meaning ‘ before the eyes’. Perception is defined as the knowledge(jnana) that is derived from the intercourse of sense-organs with objects, which is certainly well-defined. In other words, perception for many is the knowledge that is derived without the instrumentality of any other cognition. Therefore, we may say, perception, for many Indian schools of thought, is taken to be an immediate and direct source of knowledge, unlike induction which is a process of generalization from the particulars of experience through the knowledge of class essences or universals underlying such particulars. Buddha school, however, considers perception to be a mediate and indirect source of knowledge.
Nyaya School of thought, for instance, says that perception is of two kinds, Ordinary and Extraordinary Perception. Ordinary perception is of two kinds, external and internal perception. While internal perception(Manasa) is about the jnana derived through the intercourse of manas(mind)with the psychical states, external perception(bahya) is about the jnana produced through the coming together of sense-organs with external objects, such as visual, gustatory, olfactory, tactile and auditory, that are present in the brain and astral body.
Extraordinary Perception encapsulates, according to the Nyaya, Samayalaksana perception, Yogaja perception, and Jnanalaksana perception. Samanyalaksana perception is the perception of universals. It talks about universals as a distinct reality. They inhere in the particulars which belong to different classes on account of the different universals inhering in them. An individual belongs to a particular class because the universe of that class inheres in it. Thus a cow becomes a cow because it has the universal cowness inhering in it. The Samanyalaksna perception provides a base to the induction. Yogaja perception is the intuitive and direct perception of all objects, past, present, and future. It is exactly synonymous with the Kaivalya of the Sankhya-Yoga and Kevalajnana of the Buddhists.It is supra-sensuous, intuitive, and supra-relational. Jnanalaksanan perception is the knowledge that is produced when an object is not directly presented to a sense-organ but is revived in memory through the past cognition of it and is perceived through representation. Among Western Psychologists, Wundt, Ward, and Stout explain such perception by complication, a process by which different sensations become associated and form one altogether perception. For instance, when someone says, the ice looks cold, here there is no contact of the concerned sense-organ with the object, however that person is able to perceive the coldness of the object, because of its past perception of the object. The theory of illusion is also based on this kind of perception.
The Caravaka school of thought put forth its own viewpoint about perception. They take simply sense-object contact to be the real valid source of knowledge. They consider alaukika to be a part of induction, which is based on concomitance between two things. For them, concomitance is impossible, as it is based on perception and deduces the imperceptible from perceptible. Concomitance for them is the inevitable relationship between all causes and their effects. Thus, it cannot be perceived with the help of the external senses. It cannot be known by the inner perception also, as Manasa perception depends upon external. They agree with David Hume that a general rule can be formed on the basis of a larger number of events of a particular type.
The Vedanta knowledge of perception is positioned by the existence of a universal (sarv) consciousness in which there is the empirical distinction of subject and the object, mediated by a process of knowledge. According to the Vedanta, the only reality is Brahman, which is supreme consciousness, and thus neither the subject nor the object nor the relation between them exists outside it. They all are modes superimposed on its transcendent being, the Brahman. The universal consciousness thus is channelized in empirical perception in three ways: Vishayachaitanya is the consciousness that appears under the mode of the external object, which can say to be object-consciousness; Pramanachaitanya is the consciousness that appears with the modes of the mental psychosis and thus acts as the cognitive consciousness, and Pramatrichaitanya is the consciousness that appears through the mode of the Antahkarana, and exist as the cognisant consciousness. All three modes form one universal consciousness of the Atman that is conditioned by the object, the psychosis, and the internal organ.
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Illusions and hallucinations, however, present a problem as far as the theory of knowledge is concerned. One may ask, what if senses deceive us? The study of perception, however, is the concern about what we perceive and misperceive of all the objects around us. It is mediated by an awareness of mind-dependent entities, also called sense-data. These intermediaries act as representatives for the external objects, when they represent, we perceive and when they mislead, we misperceive.
Thus, different schools of thought have different interpretations and explanations of perception. However, the sense-object contact aspect of perception is taken to be the golden key of blessedness by all the Indian schools of thought.
In my opinion, perception is simply the sense-object contact. It is not an illusion, but real, and has a practical value.
BY MANIK PURI